Dwight OKs immigrant lockup

March 12, 2019 GMT

DWIGHT — In a tense meeting with a visible police presence, the Dwight village board on Monday approved the zoning and annexation of land for a proposed immigration prison.

More than 200 people attended the village board’s meeting at the Dwight High School gym. Protesters repeatedly interrupted the meeting.

If a private prison is built in Dwight — 30 miles west of Kankakee — it could hurt the Kankakee County government, which heavily relies on federal money for housing ICE detainees. There is no guarantee ICE will agree to a prison in Dwight.

During public input, the debate revolved around the policies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Most of the speakers were from out of town, both from the Chicago area and downstate. They were against the proposed prison. The speakers from Dwight were mostly in favor of the 1,200-bed lockup, which local officials are calling a detention center.

Village officials barred the public from entering the gym until a half hour before the meeting, while suit-wearing executives from Virginia-based Immigration Centers of American, the private company proposing the prison, were let in earlier.

More than a dozen police officers from a number of area departments were on hand. They prevented members of the public from crossing a rope line between the bleachers and the village board.

Before the meeting began, a man dressed in all black, including a ski mask, walked across the restricted area shouting anti-ICE slogans. An officer escorted him away, warning the man against any more outbursts.

Many carried signs with slogans such as “Detention is not the answer.”

At one point during the meeting, dozens of people left shouting “No more racist solutions” and “We will bring the fight to Dwight.” Police officers followed the group out.

One man wore a “Make America Great Again” hat. Before the meeting, he declined to give his name to an inquiring reporter, saying media are “left-wing radicals.” But he later identified himself as Mark Scott of Dwight during public input.

He told the audience that Dwight’s economy needed the detention center.

“We have nothing to fall back on,” Scott said. “Do not be intimidated by the protesters who have no vested interest in Dwight.”

A number of Dwight residents said their local leaders cannot change national immigration policies. Resident Leslie Gingery suggested the protesters bring their “passionate pleas” to Washington. She asked the board to back the prison.

“It may not be built in Dwight, but it will be built. We have elected you in good faith that you would do your due diligence. This is good for the community,” the woman said.

Anti-ICE speakers argued that for-profit prisons’ only goal is to increase the number of inmates because it means more money for them. They also said ICE has acted immorally with policies such as separating children from their parents.

“Opportunities built on the back of another person aren’t opportunities,” said Eva Garcia, of the Chicago-based United Workers Center.

Immigration Centers of American is planning to build a prison at an 88-acre parcel near Interstate 55 and Illinois Route 17. The center would house men awaiting immigration hearings and visa status determinations and would not detain immigrants determined to be criminals. Detainees at the Dwight facility are expected to have unlocked rooms.

Last year, Kankakee County received $4.9 million for housing ICE detainees. Officials have said this money has helped the county make ends meet since the county entered an ICE contract in 2016.

According to November 2017 numbers from ICE, 60 percent of the immigrants in the Kankakee County jail were criminals and the rest noncriminals. Last month, Sheriff Mike Downey said 80 or 90 percent are criminals.

The Dwight prison is expected to employ about 280 people, mostly full time, paying an average salary of $6,000, according to The Paper, a Dwight publication.

Mayor Jared Anderson told the Daily Journal last month that Immigration Centers is expected to pay Dwight $1 per detainee a day. The company would pay the $1 for at least 75 percent of the 1,200 beds, even if that many weren’t filled, Anderson said. He estimated that would generate $273,000 to $438,000 a year.

Frank Cortina, an attorney for Immigration Centers, told the board Monday that the company would be restricted to the use of the property as a noncriminal detention facility.

“This annexation agreement restricts the use,” Cortina said. “We cannot say this is a separated children facility or a separated mothers facility. This annexation agreement gives us a specific use of the property.”

Without discussion, the board voted 5-2 for the requested zoning and annexation agreement with Immigration Centers.

Members of the audiences yelled, “Shame!” Several approached the board’s table to place an anti-ICE sign in front of them after the meeting ended.

Officers escorted the board members and the Immigration Centers executives out of the room.